I'm been tracking the fallout over the Cashin article in the Times. Very interesting. This guy from (urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com) D.C. is way over my head intellectually but he makes a good point in regard to something called positive deviance: I'll try to sum it. In every school I've ever been and I've been in a lot, there is at least one teacher that can effect change in the most difficult of situations with the most difficult kids. How does that teacher do it?
Sometimes it's impossible to replicate, because it's so imbedded in that person's unique personality. But why not examine what can be replicated and make that a bedrock of staff development instead of pouring tons of money into university based staff development. As my mentor Dr. Ringel told me many times:
"David, why are you fighting the system so much. Don't you know schools are not here to educate kids, but they're here to provide jobs."
Here's urbanplaces take on positive deviance (And btw, speaking of positive deviance, check out the deviance of that outfit above) with a tip of the hat to NSDC yutzes no less.
"Positive deviance is an approach based on the fact that most dysfunctional organizations have pockets of excellence, and the trick is to identify the factors that support excellence there and replicate them. They make the point that this is important because most "best practices" examples are rejected by the "body" because they are practices "not from here" and people come up with all kinds of excuses to not make the change.
Amplifying positive deviance in schools
Schools can tap the knowledge they already possess about how to improve learning.
By Dennis Sparks
Results, April 2002
National Staff Development Council, 2002.
Student learning can be improved significantly with the professional expertise that already resides within virtually all schools. That's the promise of an unusual approach to improvement--amplifying positive deviance--described by Richard Pascale and his co-authors in Surfing the Edge of Chaos (Crown Publishing, 2000). While the origins of this method are outside education, its implications for schools seem clear.
Malnutrition, Pascale writes, was a serious problem in Vietnam following the war, a problem that is typically viewed as unsolvable because of its systemic properties (poverty, low levels of education, lack of access to clean water and sanitation). Attempts to address these larger problems or provide massive infusion of supplemental food has had little long-term effect.
Save the Children, however, decided in the early 1990s to apply a living systems model known as "Positive Deviance." "Positive Deviance," Pascale wrote, "does not impose a nutritional solution. Rather, this model relies on 'respectfully assisting evolution' by identifying children who are the 'nutritionally fittest' (i.e., positively deviant) and scaling up a solution that is already working in the community. ... The design was aimed to discover what was already working against all odds, rather than engineering a solution based on an external formula."
Pascale and his colleagues report that within six months over two-thirds of the children had gained weight and within two years 85 percent were no longer clinically malnourished. "Essential to this approach is first, respect for and second, alliance with the intelligence and capacities residing within the village. This model can be applied to other kinds of change . ... The wisdom to solve problems exists and needs to be discovered within each and every community," they conclude.
Jerry Sternin, who through Save the Children brought the notion of Positive Deviance to Vietnamese villages, believes you cannot import change from the outside. "The traditional model for social and organizational change doesn't work," he says. "You can't bring permanent solutions in from outside."
The lessons of positive deviance, Robert Quinn told me in a Fall 2001 JSD interview, can be contrasted with methods used to improve schools. "What we usually do ... is have experts determine exactly what happened, publish it, and then tell others to replicate it. This is a disastrous prescription. If you take the Save the Children story, they began with deep appreciation of the Vietnamese villages. They looked at what was happening extremely closely. ... When we think about the lessons of positive deviancy, we can never provide such prescriptive lists because each district or school is unique. ..." (See the full interview online at http://www.nsdc.org/library/publications/jsd/quinn224.cfm
An example of such an approach in schools can be found in Brazosport, Texas, a district which virtually eliminated the achievement gap between racial and socioeconomic groups by tapping the talents of successful teachers in high poverty schools and spreading their strategies around the district. The result was an "exemplary" rating from the Texas Education Agency based on 90 percent or more of the students in every sub-group in every school performed successfully on the state assessment. [For a detailed description of Brazosport's methods, see The Results Fieldbook by Mike Schmoker (ASCD, 2001).]
Schools that systematically identify, deeply appreciate, and spread the outstanding practices that already exist within them will also be more effective in using external sources of knowledge, I believe. And schools whose cultures are contrary to such methods will derive few lasting benefits from most externally imposed "solutions." Amplifying positive deviance is a promising, non-prescriptive approach worthy of immediate implementation in schools that see value in its premises and are ready to invent the most appropriate processes for their unique settings.